First resort under luxury brand St. Regis to open in 2016

International hotel developer Starwood Hotels and Resorts has announced the opening of the Maldives’ first resort under its luxury brand world St. Regis next year.

The new resort  is being developed in Dhaa Atoll Vommuli Island, a 40-minute seaplane ride away from the capital Malé, by the Chennai-based Appaaswamy Group

Starwood Hotels currently operates the W Retreat & Spa and Sheraton Full Moon Resort & Spa.

The new Vommuli Resort will feature 77 luxurious private villas, a spa with six private treatment rooms, an infinity swimming pool, and a state of the art fitness centre along with a dive and activity center.

“This signing further fuels Starwood’s strong growth momentum in South Asia, where we continue to see strong demand for high-end hotel accommodations,” said Sudeep Jain – Starwood’s Vice President of Acquisitions and Development.

“The upcoming arrival of the St. Regis brand in the Maldives underpins our commitment to Starwood’s luxury portfolio in this dynamic market.”

The St. Regis brand operates more than 30 hotels and resorts around the world.

“We are pleased to partner with Starwood to bring this hotel to life: marrying the bespoke service of the St. Regis brand with the ‘barefoot luxury’ mentality of the Maldives,” said Ravi Appasamy Managing Director of Residency Resorts Male Private Limited.

“The brand’s allure, coupled with Starwood’s powerful loyalty program, is sure to entice affluent travelers to visit this enchanting destination.”


Maldives travel retail in the spotlight after airport sells US$39,000 bottle of whisky

This story was originally published on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site,

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ has become the second duty free operator in the Asia Pacific region to sell a recently launched US$39,000 (MVR592,000)  bottle of whisky, reflecting what one retailer said is the growing significance of the destination for providers of high-end luxury goods.

Earlier this month, resort chain Anantara announced it would be offering guests a limited edition elephant-harvested coffee – priced at US$1,100 per kilogram – to target high-end gourmet appeal.

While the sale and consumption of alcohol products outside of the country’s airport and resort properties is prohibited under local law, the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNNCI) said there remained definite potential for local industry and crafts to profit in a market like INIA, despite the MNNCI’s “concerns” over the development.

According to the Moodie Report, an influential travel retail publication, one Chinese passenger travelling through INIA this month purchased the limited edition commemorative Balvenie Fifty whisky just nine days after it had gone on sale at the site. Only 88 bottles are said to have been produced.

“With the Maldives being a top luxury travel destination in the Indian Sub-Continent, we believe that Malé duty free can act as a gateway to the great collection of rare and vintage malts,” distiller William Grant and Sons’ Indian Sub-Continent Brand Development Manager Neeraj Sharma told the trade publication.

GMR, the Indian infrastructure group with a concession agreement to manage and develop the new airport terminal and retail facilities, has taken exclusive rights to certain duty free items to be sold at INIA.

However the GMR contract, which was drafted with assistance from International Finance Corporation (IFC), has come under intense criticism in the country’s political circles, with some key MPs and now government-aligned parties accusing the company of corruption and seeking to “enslave the nation and its economy”.

GMR has denied the charge, contending that it is contracted to operate as a caretaker for the site, which continues to remain Maldivian owned.

However, in the same week when INIA was selling the exclusive whisky to a passenger, local groups supporting a move to “re-nationalise” the airport continued to campaign to sway public opinion against the developer, releasing a large balloon in the capital adorned with the message “go home GMR”.

The government and GMR are presently involved in an arbitration case in Singapore concerning GMR’s levying of an airport development charge.

Authentically Maldivian

MNCCI Vice President Ishmael Asif said aside from selling exclusive duty free goods, local manufacturers of products such as wood carvings and traditional clothing could also benefit from operating in INIA.  However, Asif stressed that local laws needed to be amended accordingly.

“There are no local laws right now protecting authentic Maldives products. The goods being sold as Maldivian often come from other countries and do not reflect our traditions and culture,” he claimed, pointing to the types of products sold in stores on busy retail streets like Chaandhanee Magu in Male’ as an example.

Asif claimed that legislation outlining quality and production standards could greatly boost the profitability and market for local techniques such as wood carvings of fish and dhonis (local boats) as well as smaller items like drums used in bodu beru – a local musical form combining rhythmic drumming and dancing.

According to the MNCCI, factories previously existed during the 1990’s specialising in such local woodworking techniques, which used paints and fabrics derived from local materials and colourings. Asif claimed that these factories were no longer in operation outside of some specialist operations supported by resorts based in Baa Atoll.

“We have been trying to work on a special logo that can be used to identify local Maldivian products, this is something that could be done and used at the airport,” said Asif.

The MNCCI added that in recent years, specialist retail groups had set up operations to try and provide authentic products to the country’s lucrative tourism trade, but had more recently struggled to maintain a property in the capital. The commerce group added that organisations such as the UN were now being sought to provide support to such enterprises to help maintain local cultural practices.

In terms of high-end luxury products, Asif added that traditionally INIA – formerly Male’ international Airport – had been viewed locally as a way to bring tourists to the country, rather than as a means of making money as a retail location.

“We are known [as a destination] for having expensive resorts, and the Maldives has tried to develop the best resorts in the world,” he claimed.  “GMR seem to feel this is only a place for the elite, [while] we need to accommodate everyone.”

GMR said that as part of a redevelopment of the existing airport terminal, new restaurant properties providing fast food and Thai specialities – particularly popular with Maldivians – would be opened to both passengers and local people.

Yet despite the untapped retail potential for Maldivian products at INIA, the MNNCI said it held “concerns” over the airport agreement with GMR, which was signed with the previous government, and complained it had not been consulted about developing local retail potential.

Asif has previously said that the MNNCI held concerns about the impact of the GMR deal on local businesses, alleging that a planning council related to the infrastructure group’s bid had not been open to the public or its members.

He pointed to the case of local enterprises such as MVK Maldives Private Limited, which in December last year was ordered by the Civil Court to vacate the Alpha MVKB Duty Free shop based at INIA after its agreement had expired.

However, speaking to private broadcaster Raaje TV last month, former Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee, who worked with the previous government and international partners on the GMR agreement, denied the deal had resulted in local enterprises being kicked out.

“The privatisation policy does not itself kick others out. It is about honouring the contract. No one has actually been kicked out, but private parties have opportunities to participate. The issue that has always existed is getting cheap capital for small scale businesses,” he said at the time.

Razee claimed that the GMR deal reflected a commitment by the former government to pursue privatisation as outlined in the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP’s) manifesto.

“Firstly, if or when anything is run like a business, private people are more skilled and efficient. They are far more competent and they work for profit unlike the government,” he claimed.  “This means it requires less cost for the government, but needs more outside investment or capital. Private people are more skilled and efficient in terms of managing. The end product thus is more beneficial.”


Q&A: French tourist Mary Kivers

Minivan News interviewed French tourist Mary Kivers, a travel agent visiting the Maldives from France. Kivers came to the Maldives interested in seeing local life, and she shared her perceptions of a country that is both a world-class vacation destination and a unique victim of climate change. Kivers was randomly chosen for the interview, and nothing was known about her or her travel plans in advance.

Eleanor Johnstone: What made you decide to come to the Maldives?

Mary Kivers: When I’m traveling I just look for the cheapest opportunity because I have a promotion as a travel agent. So I saw Male’, and I thought, “Maldives, it’s one of my dreams to go there”, especially because I am a diver, so I decided to go. But then it was pretty hard to find accommodation at a good price.

EJ: How was your trip planned?

MK: I looked on the Internet a lot, and I knew I wanted to go to a local island. I found three websites: one was rather expensive and another never called back, but the third did a package with activities including a boat trip, and full board on Guraidhoo in South Male Atoll at a great price.

EJ: What was your first impression of the Maldives?

MK: When I arrived, I thought it was really nice. First, I went to a resort because I wanted to go diving. So I spent two days and two nights in a resort. I knew I wouldn’t like it too much though, because tourists stick together and it’s a honeymoon destination, so as a girl traveling alone the resort scene can get boring. But I talked to the staff who were very friendly, even though work was hard for them during Ramazan.

I talked with some Sri Lankan staff, who said they spent seven months here and three months at home, which seems very hard for them. But otherwise, the beach was clean, the nature is perfect and the sea is really amazing. Two days, though – it was enough.

EJ: Can you tell me about the local island experience?

MK: Well, when we arrived on Guraidhoo the manager took us to see the tourist beach. There’s only one beach for tourists to wear bikinis, which is hidden away from islanders. Everywhere else, you have to be appropriately dressed for the culture.

Afterwards, every day we took boats to see inhabited islands. But it’s a pity because there’s a lot of garbage and plastic bottles, shoes, everything really, everywhere. There are no trash bins anywhere, even on the local islands. There’s a large amount of garbage, and sometimes they burn it, but it’s right near the sea. There’s the beach, then the sea, then the garbage.

EJ: Where does the garbage come from?

MK: From the people on the island. At first I thought it was all from the boats, but on my last day I really wanted to see the village and local inhabitants so I decided to go there instead of taking the tourist boat. It was really great, I was walking around and everyone was inviting me to sit with them or eat in their house.

Even though it was Ramazan, they gave me food and drinks. They were very nice, even though they don’t see many tourists. It’s funny – children speak English but the older people don’t speak English. It’s now two years since they got a ferry, so before that there wasn’t a ferry or a teacher. Now it’s getting better. In this island for example they have two schools – one for ages 2-6, and the other for ages 6-14. After 14, they have to go to Male’ or another island. The government will pay for housing on another island. But because they have many children, I think it can be hard to get everyone educated.

EJ: You’ve seen the resort side of the Maldives, the local island side, and now you’re on the capital island. How would you describe Male?

MK: Big city, lots of buildings… it’s funny because people look at you  weirdly, because I think as I’m a woman alone so I stand out. But they’re very nice people. Yeah, it’s a nice city but it’s built above garbage, they put the garbage anywhere, there’s no trash, no bin. It’s funny because we who live abroad think that Male’ will be an example for the world about pollution and everything, since global warming is important here. But when you see the inhabitants in the Maldives, they put anything into the sea. It was funny, on Guraidhoo one of the girls had a diaper, you know for the baby, and I asked her where she was going. She said, “I am going to the bin,” and she went and threw it in the sea.

EJ: Really?!

MK: Yeah, I know! I even talked a little to the people about garbage, recycling, pollution, but I think it will be a long time for that change to happen. But it’s too bad, I think the sea is so nice, but when there is trash it distracts from nature and the sea.

EJ: So overall, how would you recommend the different parts of the Maldives to other travelers?

MK: Well for me, I prefer local islands for sure. Because you can really get into the culture and see how they live, and it’s more alive. Resorts are like a postcard. It’s just right, perfect…. but it’s not the real country. I guess if you like luxury and honeymoons it’s perfect, but for me it’s a little bit dead. Tourists aren’t smiling much, and I don’t like that, personally.

I would recommend people stay on a local island. I think I will do a post online about how someone can do that, because it was so hard to find a place where I could stay. So if I post on a forum and chat about where to stay in the local islands of the Maldives, maybe I can make it easier for other travelers.

EJ: What do the people you know think of the Maldives?

MK: I met a group of French people on the local island, and I think they were just happy to stay on the boat. They didn’t seem to really want to see the locals and the traditions.

EJ: Thank you, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay, and have a safe flight home.

MK: You’re welcome.

Tourism is the biggest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldives, bringing in over 700,000 visitors each year. Some resorts, such as Soneva Fushi, appeal to the eco-minded tourist by providing environmentally conscious services. But waste remains an issue for the Maldives. In 2009, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that 330 tons of waste are transported to Thilafushi island for processing. Thilafushi is now commonly known as ‘garbage island’.


Luxury Indian cruise liner to set sail for Maldives in October

Indian shipping company AMET has announced that the cruise liner MV AMET Majesty will sail from Kochi to the Maldives starting October for a weekly four-night cruise intended to open the country to middle class Indian visitors.

“Only foreign cruise liners used to visit the ports that always remained the prerogative of the rich. With the rightly priced packages, AMET cruise brings cruise tourism options within the reach of the urban middle class,’’ AMET’s CEO Bharathi said.

The luxury cruise, equipped with dance floor, disco, casinos, show lounges, bars, swimming pool, barbeque and conference room is expected to be especially popular for weddings, the company said.